Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Naftali Bennett, whom he invited on Sunday once again to join a potential coalition, of committing “the fraud of the century” after Yamina’s chairman announced he would seek a unity government with Yair Lapid – and without Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said he made “incredible” offers to Bennett’s party that would have prevented a “dangerous left-wing government,” but Bennett, according to the prime minister, “only cares about himself.”
The prime minister spoke shortly after Bennett said in a televised statement that he would do his best to form a coalition government with Yair Lapid, capping weeks of speculation over whether the right-wing politician would agree to such an effort to replace Netanyahu.
The four election cycles Israel has gone through within two years meant the country was "losing its ability to function," and the country's leadership is "showing hate and divisions to cover up failures," Bennett said. Bennett also asserted that the idea of a coalition made up solely of right-wing parties was not a true possibility. "It's either a fifth election or a unity government," he said. "Netanyahu knows it well."
Bennett said internal divisions were threatening the country's existence. "We can go to a fifth election, a sixth, a tenth, to tear down the walls of the country, brick by brick, until our house falls on top of us," he said. "And we can stop the madness and take responsibility."
Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the far-right Religious Zionism party, attacked Bennett, saying he was "deserting for the left with supporters of terrorism. Everything was coordinated and preplanned. A show. The biggest scam in the history of Israeli politics."
Under a prospective power-sharing deal, Bennett would replace Netanyahu, the 71-year-old head of the Likud party, as prime minister and later give way to centrist Lapid in a rotation agreement. The new coalition's diverse members would have little in common apart from a plan to end the 12-year-run of Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, now on trial over corruption charges he denies.
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Reuters contributed to this report.